Volunteering for Hospital-Wide Committees

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Getting ahead in today’s health care environment sometimes means making yourself a standout clinician not only within your RT department but within the interdisciplinary team in your hospital as well. What’s one great way to do that? Volunteer to serve on a hospital-wide committee. These AARC members have done it and they believe it’s boosted their careers.

Opening the door

Greg Rittenhouse, BS, RRT, BB, respiratory quality/education coordinator at Kettering Medical Center in Lebanon, OH, has been on a number of hospital-wide committees in his facility and is currently a member of the Code Committee, which he says has helped him emphasize the importance of assessment skills and early intervention.

“It’s my opinion, after seeing the number of Rapid Response Calls, which often turn into Code Blue, that a high emphasis on the utilization of good assessment skills and early intervention may go a long way in reducing those calls and keeping the patient from deteriorating,” Rittenhouse said. “RTs are great at both and can be a good resource for education in those areas.”

He believes RT membership on interdisciplinary committees serves to broaden the understanding other disciplines have of respiratory care and open the door to new opportunities for the department when therapists add to the purpose of the group.

“I strongly recommend RTs to be actively involved; it’s a win-win for everyone involved, especially the patients,” Rittenhouse said.

Demonstrating value

As a member of the COPD and Pneumonia Task Force at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, MI, earlier this year, Teena Culhane, RRT, met with other members of the interdisciplinary team on a weekly basis to discuss ways to improve care for patients with these conditions.

“In order to address COPD readmission rates, it is critical to have a multidisciplinary team, excellent communication, and to involve the patient, their family, and their caregivers in their care,” she said. “We developed a ‘Better Breathing’ board which was located at the patient’s bedside and used by the patient to identify any concerns and barriers to their care, and used by the team as a communication tool.”

Her participation on this task force demonstrated the value an RT adds to patient care to her colleagues on the team and it also gave her the chance to showcase her pulmonary rehabilitation program to the inpatient team and convey the importance of PR enrollment within a few weeks of discharge for the best results.

Making lemonade from lemons

Jennifer Keely’s experience on a hospital-wide committee came back in 2004 after a family member of a patient she’d been delivering palliative care to misinterpreted some of her comments at the bedside. The family member complained to a nurse, who shared the incident with her manager.

The manager decided to assign Keely, MEd, RRT, RRT-ACCS, to serve on the facility’s Palliative Care Committee, and she says she learned a lot in the process.

“The first take-away from that experience was that communication from clinicians speaking with family members must be very intentional and well-informed because the emotions in a room full of people who are grieving the imminent death of a loved one can result in messages being twisted in ways that were not intended,” Keely said.

She also learned that end of life care is much more holistic and spiritual than that which typically occurs in acute care, with chaplains at the bedside and the use of therapeutic touch, and she came to realize how valuable a strong, organized palliative care program can be to patients and families dealing daily with the chaos of a terminal illness.

“Though the reason I was placed on the committee was due to a miscommunication, I benefited from that experience,” Keely said. “By attending the meetings, being engaged and articulate, I was able to demonstrate to the leadership in my department, as well as with the Palliative Care team, that RTs should absolutely be at the table and be part of those conversations.”

Now an associate clinical professor in the respiratory therapy program at the University of Missouri in Columbia, she says she uses her experiences on this committee to help her students better understand the role palliative care plays in the care of patients.

RT input matters

Addressing hospital readmissions for patients with COPD has grown in importance over the years due to COPD’s inclusion in the federal government’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program. Charlie Friderici, RRT, life safety and emergency preparedness coordinator at Saratoga Hospital in Saratoga Springs, NY, took part in a COPD Readmissions Committee at another employer a few years ago and says the experience taught him that other members of the team are more willing to listen to the concerns of an RT in the interdisciplinary setting.

“Input from the RT department helped develop an improved process for patient education and referrals, which positively impacted length of stay and lowered the readmission rate,” Friderici said.

He believes service on interdisciplinary committees — and he has been a member of many others during his long career as well — helps raise awareness of the vital role RTs play in health care overall.

“Serving on a multidisciplinary team such as this demonstrates our unique perspective and knowledge, as well as our commitment to our patients, to administration, and other clinical departments who are involved in the discussions,” Friderici said. “Having face time with directors and administrators is key in helping them understand what we do and opens the door for them to ask us for our opinions on topics and clinical policies.”

One thing leads to another

A world away in Saudi Arabia, James Hamm, RRT, RPFT, manager of operations and diagnostics for the respiratory care department at Princess Noura University, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz University Hospital in Riyadh, has had experience on 11 different hospital-wide committees and says getting involved in one of them sparked his involvement in several of the others.

He joined the Patient Safety Committee because he had an intense interest in the area and says he was amazed by the range of initiatives available for implementation.

“Being on this committee allowed me to expand my knowledge and think outside of the RT focus,” Hamm said. “It gave me a much greater appreciation for the efforts of nursing and risk management.”

His subsequent membership on the Infection Control Committee was a direct result of his involvement on the Patient Safety Committee.

“I thought this would expand my knowledge,” he said, and it has. He’s still on the committee today and says he’s gained a better understanding of facility issues related to infection control and how to prepare for MERS-COv patients, who are seen in his location.

Committee membership also led to new opportunities for him on the job.

“Because I was on this committee, I became the department safety liaison. I incorporated infection control prevention topics into new employee orientation, so that on day one, they received an idea of practices they were expected to implement, such as hand hygiene and donning and removing personal protective equipment,” Hamm said.

System-wide groups

Scott Daniel, RRT, currently sits on two system-wide committees at Intermountain Healthcare in Utah, the Respiratory Care Services (RCS) Standards Committee, where he is chair, and the COPD Strategic Planning Committee. The RCS Committee has multiple subcommittees that address specific aspects of respiratory care for his 23-hospital system.

“These sub-committees help move our initiatives forward in a smooth and systematic manner,” said Daniel, the respiratory care services manager at Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George.

The COPD Committee involves a cross mix of leaders from the health system who meet to discuss the patients they are seeing and how to help them overcome the barriers they may be facing to living the healthiest life possible.

“Our goal is to reduce their readmissions, as well as provide them with the education and care they need in their homes by connecting them with whoever and whatever they need,” Daniel said.

He believes being an active member of these system-wide committees has given him the chance to provide feedback and change processes, and it also fosters greater engagement among his staff and encourages their commitment to the goals of the organization.

“Serving on committees gives you a global understanding of how complex systems are, and the need to communicate with all participants on the team is one of the greatest learning skills I have developed from this opportunity,” Daniel said.

Providing a voice

The Healthy Work Environment Committee that Weslee Shoff, RRT, RPFT, from WellSpan Health York Hospital in York, PA, currently sits on was originally designed to be a nursing committee, but over the years it’s taken on a more multidisciplinary approach.

“I volunteered to serve on this committee because it was an opportunity to give both my patients and coworkers a voice and to present any issues or areas for improvement to a team who is dedicated to problem solving and providing excellent care,” Shoff said. “We meet every six weeks to discuss changes within the system, any safety issues for patients or staff, and areas for improvement within our system to help further our goals of providing exceptional care for our patients.”

This year, a subcommittee tasked with planning WellSpan’s Hospital Week celebrations was formed and she was one of nine members charged with planning activities, gifts, and recognition for more 6,000 employees. Hospital Week 2019 was a big success, and now the subcommittee members have been asked to plan monthly celebrations for employees.

“Through serving on the subcommittee, I have formed both professional and personal relationships with individuals I wouldn’t have otherwise met,” Shoff said. “We truly worked as one and the result was rewarding for the committee and the staff at WellSpan.”

She believes service on hospital-wide committees gives RTs the chance to bring their knowledge, perspectives, and influence to the table and encourages professional communication and leadership within individuals.

A great motivator

Denise Lauderbaugh, RRT, RRT-NPS, from Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, CA, got involved with her hospital’s interdisciplinary Evidence Based Practice and Research Council when she attended the San Diego Evidence Based Practice Institute.

“I truly enjoyed the participation of an interdisciplinary team discussing different points of view about EBP and research projects,” she said. “After a few years I had enough knowledge to grow into a more supportive mentor role and became co-chair, then chair.”

She was the first RT in the hospital to assume those leadership roles on a council, and the positions eventually led to her membership on the facility’s Patient Care Quality Council as well, which expanded her role within her department to include apparent cause analysis. This year she’s taken on the role of chair of the Shared Leadership Coordinating Council too.

She credits these experiences with helping her get more involved in research and quality projects in her facility, and says they also provided the motivation she needed to go back to school for both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

“Being on an interdisciplinary council opens you up to different viewpoints and ideas, as well as provides you with a great forum to feedforward ideas and work on projects that affect more than one discipline,” Lauderbaugh said.

Tackling diversity

Lil O’Neill, MA, RRT, manager of respiratory care and pulmonary rehab at Bryan Health in Lincoln, NE, sits on her hospital’s Cultural Shift Initiative Tactic Team, a group convened to increase awareness about diversity issues within health care.

She feels strongly about the topic.

“There is limited diversity education required of hospital employees for cultural competency,” O’Neill said.

Employees in her hospital have noted a lack of resources to provide culturally competent care to patients, and the current interpreter services have been deemed inadequate for the diverse population served by the facility.

The team is working hard to resolve these issues and she says she’s learned a lot about the value of diversity in the process.

“Being a part of this team has made me aware of the importance of working together with others to help develop a diversity and inclusion proposal for the entire health system,” O’Neill said.

Five great tips

With experience on hospital-wide committees addressing everything from environment of care to trauma to ethics and more, Wes Andrews, MA, RRT, CHEP, director of respiratory services and disaster preparedness officer at OCH Regional Medical Center in Starkville, MS, has five great tips for his fellow therapists who would like to take part in these initiatives.

  1. Always focus on what will best serve the patient and find ways to collaborate with other stakeholders to accomplish that goal.
  2. Always promote the profession and find ways to advance the profession as a stakeholder in every committee.
  3. Get heard and get respected. Don’t be a face in the crowd. Represent and stay relevant.
  4. Watch for politics and political posturing of committee members. Decide if you will do it or not, then decide how you will handle it. Avoidance is often perceived as endorsement.
  5. Don’t overcommit yourself or the department. Don’t make promises you cannot keep or that are not in-line with departmental policies or processes. If the department would not follow you there, then don’t pretend they care about you being there.

“To be inactive is to be irrelevant. Every therapist will reach a point in their professional path where self-reflection must point toward further engagement or disengagement. If further engagement is the path chosen, then committee involvement can provide refreshing ways to interact with other providers of care and actually imprint facility-wide processes with RT DNA,” Andrews said.